I was in the grocery to exchange a hair spray that had a broken nozzle. It would take about 20 seconds. Ahead of me was a rather cranky looking, thirty-something with a fist full of coupons and cart so full of groceries, she had to place a hand on top to keep stuff from sliding off the heap. I said, Excuse me, would you mind if I went ahead of you? I just need to exchange this. It’ll only take a second. She looked at me like I was a bug and said, Yes, I mind and proceeded to unload her cart.
The register clerk and I shared a, “WTF?” glance. Did that just happen? I was a little shocked that she was so rude. So I waited, in mock patience. The scenario at face value: Rude woman tells polite woman to go play in traffic. This experience is so full of learning points, it’s hard to know where to start.
I’ll start with my assessment of her. I had noted the contents of her cart and found diapers, baby food, kid food and grown up food. So she was a mother of multiple kids. I immediately judged her as a discontented mother and basically elevated myself. I secretly thought that I was better than her. When I asked her if I could go first, I wasn’t asking at all. I was counting on her to comply with my request rather than suffer the scrutiny of the cashier and myself.
My energy was clear: I am more important than you and it’s the right thing to do so you need to let me go first. I was working hard as an actor back then so I had this idea that I was super special because of it. I had been on national television and worked with “important people”. She was just some random, tired mom with a cart full of groceries, that’s not special.
First level of what was really going on: Judgy, self-involved, insecure woman uses social convention to try to get what she wants. Here’s what that woman showed me. I was being completely inauthentic. If I was a compassionate person, I would have noticed that her multiple child house hold is probably kicking her a** and if her kids weren’t at the store but she was, she’s probably got a sitter at home and that costs by the hour so maybe she can’t afford to be generous with her time.
There are a million reasons for her to have acted like she did so trying to imagine her motivation is moot. What struck me as important was my motivation. If I had been less secretly snobby and more genuinely asking with a “no” built in as a valid option, would the outcome have been different? The ultimate truth is probably a little bit of both the face value and one level deeper.The lesson for me was being able to see what energy I was adding to the soup.
I find myself constantly embroiled in the dichotomy of craving self-knowledge and wanting everyone to act like I would act. The common thread in this life long push-pull relationship is it helps to have unflinching self-acceptance when you realize are the meat-head in the equation.